Audio Books vs. Podcasts

Apr 16, 2015

Prompted by suggestions that I should read the new Steve Jobs book, I looked at the options and decided to listen to the audio book instead. So, I check the iTunes Store and purchased the book. It downloaded 2 files. Then I started listening to it via the built-in Music app. After 2 days of using the audio book option of the app, I am already fed up with it. The user experience is really bad. I can't image that there are actual people that use this. It seems like an afterthought and that there is nobody at Apple that looked at it for the last 6 years. There are constant problems with remembering the playback position. Scrubbing 8 hour audio files is cumbersome and imprecise. There is no support for chapter markers and bookmarks. But then all these problems got me thing about the medium.

Why are we using a dedicated podcast app for podcasts and a music app for audio books? That doesn't make sense to me. After all audio books are just longer podcasts. To me the medium is the same. Both contain spoken words you can't listen to in one run. You basically want to do the same things. All the problems and issue we see with consuming podcasts are actually amplified when listening to audio books. Audio books are even longer audio files and even less accessible. So I thought about better ways to listen to audio books.

I split the audio book into multiple files - one file per chapter. Then I created a podcast feed and added one episode for every chapter. This method allowed me to much better keep track of how my progress into the book was. Also podcast apps generally do not loose track of the current playback position. It is clear to me now that using a podcast like app for audio books presents a much better user experience than what is offered right now.

Of course podcast apps could also be made better for these use cases. I am thinking of something similar like 'News Mode'. I'd call it 'Story Mode'. If enabled a podcast app should reverse the sort order to 'Oldest First' and always keep the next episode downloaded. You'd start at episode #1 and the podcast app already downloads episode #2. You finish episode #1 and start playing episode #2 and the podcast app auto-downloads episode #3, etc. This feature would also be great when you want to re-listen to older podcasts starting with episode #1.

Of course audio books are not delivered as podcast feeds and I won't be doing this manually for every audio book I'll listen to. I am also not saying that they should be. All I'm saying is that we as podcast app developers should not only think about podcasts, we should also think about longer forms of audio content like audio books and audio magazines and how we can make that user experience better.